Attack on Black liberation radio
By Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, 4 December 1996
One of the limitations of the present day Black revolutionary movement is its inability to reach a mass audience. Owning or having no access to mass media in our own communities is a significant barrier that we can now act to remedy. Start your own community-based radio stations, which can be done for little money [$250-1000], but allows your to present your ideals and black world news to your community which is starving for it. These stations are an important organizing tool, allowing the people and actvists alike in local affairs. They are effectively the 90's equivalent of the "underground press" of the 1960's. Clearly the white government recognizes the serious importance of BLR even if our forces still don't. The Radio Police [aka FCC] are brutal in their attempts to repress the stations which have come on air.
Black Liberation Radio, and all so-called "free radio stations" started with the work of Mbanna Kantako, previously known as Dewayne Readus, who lives in a housing project in Springfield, Illinois. On November 23, 1988, Kantako, a legally blind project resident of the John Jay Homes began broadcasting on a one-watt FM transmitter to the inner city community. The station, called WTRA originally, was ignored by the city's white political establishment and the FCC, until it began to expose police brutality against black city residents over the air. This earned him not only a $750 fine from the FCC, but a racist cop purportedly shot a pistol bullet into his house in an act of intimidation. The FCC also ordered him off the air, but he refused and continued to broadcast. He was threatened with eviction from his project apartment and cops even arrested his 9-year old son to pressure him to cease broadcasting. Rather than frightening him off the air, however, the repression made him more determined to continue broadcasting, and even earned him more listeners and critical community support to oppose government censorship. To this day his broadcasts can be heard 24 hours a day in Springfield, and tapes of his broadcasts are played all over the world. Inspired by Kantako, other stations all over the country have come onto the air, managed by Black activists.
But there is not yet a happy ending to this story. Although the feds have not decided to attack Kantako because of his base of support in the black community, they have been able to successfully attack others and even close them down. Zoom Black Magic Radio of Contra Costa, California was founded in or around 1989, and has been harrassed incessantly by local cops and FCC agents. Although they continue to broadcast, the ZBMR collective have been threatened with arrest by cops, been subjected to police surveillance, lost jobs in retalitatory firings, and had their equipment seized several times by police and FCC agents.
Around 1993 Black Liberation Radio in Richmond, Virginia came on air to serve the black comunity. For almost a year, they were let alone, but finally because of their support of the 1995 Million Man March, they were raided by local cops, the FBI and FCC, who not only hauled off broadcast equipment, but also broke furniture, and dragged off computers and office eqipment, and the resident's personal property. This intimidation by government thugs completely shut down BLR-Richmond, and to this day there is no further attempt at a broadcast.
One of the most egregious cases of political repression against free radio happened against BLR in Decatur, Illinois, apparently this year. This is the way it was described in Rock Out Censorship, a radical music newsletter, in an article written by Luis J. Rodriguez:
"PIRATE MEDIA! LIBERATION RADIO IN AMERICA: ARRESTING THE AIRWAVES!"
" Out of his dining room, Napolean Williams has been broadcasting nightly about issues which the mass media won't touch, including the growing instances of police terror in his Soutern Illinois community. Williams is the proprietor of Black Liberation Radio, and unlicensed rap-and-talk radio program.
For his efforts, Williams, 36, has been arrested, his house raided (at one point, police pulled a gun on his then two-year old daughter) and ostracized. His live-in girlfriend, 21 year old Mildred Jones, has also been incarcerated, and most recently, the State of Illinois has taken away their child to an unknown destination--without any investigation or evidence! Their only crime: Free Expression.
"They have yet to show us any situation where our baby came to any harm with us, Williams says. "There is no evidence, only allegations. Meanwhile Mildred lingers in jail, and I don't know where they've taken our daughter".
Williams says State's Attorney Lawrence Fichter has been carrying out what amounts to a personal vendetta against him, confiscating his equipment to incarcerating his girlfriend and taking away his baby, all under the cover of the law. "They came and held me aainst the wall, while the baby cried as they grabbed her," Williams says. "They say we endangered her, but it's the state which has placed her in danger".
Today in America we are witnessing a rise in censorship--such as national police associations targeting Ice-T's song "Cop Killer". We are also living in a time of an acute economic crisis... Those communities most affected by the crisis--particularly African American and workin class--have been the most consistent targets of censorship. These are precisely the communities we need to hear from.
When those who are supposed to protect you are doing this to you, who can you turn to?" Williams asks.
Williams and Jones need your help: they particularly need legal assistance. There are people like them all over this country. This is a story which needs to be told: We need to break the blackout on what's really going on in America...
You can reach Bro. Williams at (217)422-3710 or write: Napolean Williams, 756 S. Wise, Decatur, IL. 62522 [end]
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Hundreds of micro-power stations have come on the air in the last ten years, but the first thing one notices is how the government deals with the white radicals running a station like Free Radio Berkeley in California. As opposed to the life threatening repression of the BLR stations, the most that Stephen Dunifer, the other major figure in micro-radio, has had to suffer is threats of fines and other legal action. His offices have not been raided, nor has his inventory of radio transmitters been seized from his business, and neither he or members of his family have been jailed at anytime in retaliation for his broadcasts. Clearly we know the reason why.
Black Autonomy and all segments of the Afican freedom movement must support the Black Liberation Radio movement. We should not allow the white government to crush this very important incipient movement. We should in fact join this conspiracy to expose government repression and put even more stations on the air.
Here is what I suggest we do to ensure our right to broadcast and beat back the government:
. Have a series of mass demonstrations in Berkeley and other cities while the hearings are going on in federal court based on the government's lawsuit to close down Free Radio Berkeley.
. create a legal and educational defense fund to raise money to support any harassed broadcaster and the lawsuits by the FCC. This also includes defense against criminal charges brought by the government and police which grow out of their broadcasting.
. Start a campaign to get human rights organizations in North America and other parts of the world to support the rights of BLR's and other micro-broadcasters. If Amnesty International, the UN and other organizations object to the repression, which is in violation of both U.S. and international law, this would be a powerful weapon to isolate the U.S.
. Popularize the issue so that the masses of our people will support the rights of broadcasters. We must get all segments of our movement to support this issue, but more importantly we must get our communities to support this issue. The best way to do that is to start a station in your community or neighborhood.
. Create an actual broadcast network of stations for shared programming, news,local experiences, legal defense, and other functions.
This is not all that can be done, but it is a start. So let us all set up a station next year where we live and counter-program all the government/corporate/media propaganda. Then the peole in our communities can all say: "I finally got the news!"